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Economic Crisis Fueling Child Labor and Trafficking in Burma

November 17, 2007

The economic crisis and instability in Burma is driving waves of Burmese children into hard labor, begging and the sex trade, claims exiled Burmese rights groups.

To mark the fourth anniversary of the international Day Against Child Trafficking on December 12, Mae Sot-based organization Burma Anti-Child Trafficking and the Burmese Migrant Workers' Education Committee organized a campaign in the Thai border town of Mae Sot against the trafficking of children and warning against the hardships of child labor.

The two groups called for the protection of children’s rights in an event that was attended by some 2,000 children, parents and teachers.

Nang Muu, coordinator of the Burma ACT told The Irrawaddy: “The amount of Burmese children trafficked increases year after year. It is because of the economic crisis and the social problems that parents believe the word of traffickers.”

Often, parents of children and teenagers in Burma are persuaded by businessmen, relatives and friends to send their children abroad—usually to Thailand, China, India, Malaysia or Indonesia—to seek jobs with better salaries than exist in Burma, according to a member of Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association, a Mae Sot-based migrant rights group.

Migrant “street children” in Thailand feature in no official statistics and NGOs can only hazard a guess at their true number—20,000 is a generally accepted figure. A 2005 report released by Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University highlighted the vulnerability of migrant street kids. Children were found at shopping malls, weekend markets, train and bus stations, slum districts and bar areas, said the report.

Burma ACT has documented about 70 cases of child trafficking in 2007 and helped to send four trafficked children from Mae Sot back to their homes in cooperation with other rights groups, said Nang Muu. Meanwhile, the results of child trafficking has had a huge impact on the education of many Burmese migrant children, forcing the children into hard labor in factories, sweat shops and even into the sex trade, according to Burmese migrant education groups.

Many victims under the age of 18 have become street beggars and sex workers instead of studying at school, said Paw Ray, the chairperson of the BMWEC, which operates nearly 50 schools for children of Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot.
 
Paw Ray, who is also a director of Hsar Thu Lay School in Mae Sot— a learning centre for orphans, refugees and Burmese migrant children—said, “Children are our future. We should take care of them and protect them. We should let them express their feelings freely.” Due to the difficulties of daily survival, some parents are forcing their children to work and some children are even sold by their parents, said Paw Ray.

Meanwhile, Penpisut Jaisanit, a Rajabhat University researcher who conducted a study around northern Thailand’s border with Burma’s Shan State, said most child laborers were ethnic children from Burma.  “We found that the ethnic children were forced to beg by their parents, especially in Mae Sai. If they cannot collect enough money they are punished. Some girls under the age of 15 work in ‘entertainment centers’ and are sexually harassed at an age when they should be in school,” said Penpisut.

“We should not sit back and watch. Rights groups should cooperate and try to stamp out the trafficking of children and highlight the issue,” urged Paw Ray, adding: “The Burmese regime is responsible for this.”

However, Thailand’s Minister of Labor, Somsak Thepsutin, has indicated that it would be another ten years before the worst forms of child labor are eradicated in Thailand. Burmese child laborers were unearthed in six of Thailand’s provinces, from Chiang Rai in the north to Songkhla in the south, said researcher Penpisut Jaisanit.

Ne Oo, the secretary of the BMWEC, tells the parents that if their children don’t receive an education they will have hard lives: “It’s difficult for us to help those [migrant families] with their daily survival. We explain to them the comparison between the lives of educated people and uneducated people,” he said.

Ne Oo added that many children lack the interest in education and said he had noted some 40 Burmese street kids coming every day to collect plastic and rubbish under the bridge linking Burma’s Myawaddy town and Thailand’s Mae Sot. “They [migrant children] don't get pocket money if they attend school. If they collect plastic and sell it, they earn at least 20 baht per day. So, they prefer to keep working as street children,” he said.

Meanwhile, a Rangoon resident told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the amount of street children in the former capital is now increasing. “Many children aged between 4 and 13 are begging on the streets. Some young children are carrying babies and begging. Some street children look for plastic in the rubbish bins and dumps and some go fishing every day for their daily survival,” she said.

The Rangoon resident added: “If we are sitting and eating in a shop, they [child beggars] come to us and wait for money. They will wait until we have finished eating.” Ne Oo concluded: “We try to explain to the parents of these children. We told them that the life of an uneducated person is hard. How can they expect their children to survive in the future?”

 

Adapted from: Saw Yan Naing, "Economic Crisis Fueling Child Labor, Trafficking."
http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=9627 18 December 2007.
 

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